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// Lifestyle & health

Mental Health Awareness – Sharon’s story

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week our colleague, Sharon Guinnane, shares her personal experience of mental health and how she made changes to support her wellbeing.

I started my first job at 16 with a large insurance company. I was proud to have been offered a position straight from school. I learnt quickly and it was obvious I was seen as a valuable member of the department. So, I could never understand why I often didn’t want to go into work. Why I stood outside either trying to find a reason not to go in or having to talk myself into doing the right thing. The more I thought about it the more upset I became. I was passed over for promotion and was told that whilst originally I would have been the obvious choice, I was now not working to the best of my ability. They thought I was losing interest.

It was only a couple of years later that I realised for most of my teenage years I had been suffering with depression. I went to my GP who referred me to a counsellor and prescribed medication.

For over 20 years I had suffered in silence. I had good days and bad days. I had some extremely dark days, but apart from my GP and counsellors nobody knew. I managed to live my public life wearing a mask.

My lowest point came, and once I managed to crawl out of the depths of depression and did what I needed to keep myself afloat, I had some clarity. I don’t know what happened or why but I knew I had overcome the subconscious reasoning for my depression. My mind was clear and free for the first time in 20 years and I have not had an episode of depression for six years. It is a bit like being a recovering alcoholic. You count the days and hope you don’t relapse.

I still consider myself to suffer with depression. I think I always will and I have to watch closely for the warning signs.

Last year, I became ill with stress. I felt mentally and physically ill. I went to the GP, took time off work and recovered. There were times when I worried I would not get better, my mind was not my own and I was scared. But I did. For anyone who has suffered from both stress and depression you will know the difference, however one can trigger the other.

The best thing to come out of my latest illness was that for the first time in my life I understood the necessity and desire to let people in and share my thoughts and feelings.

I now know I have good friends and colleagues. My colleagues are the best and we support each other. Being part of a great team is what gets me through a challenging work day.

Being open about how I feel doesn’t come naturally and if someone asks me how I am, I will still usually say ‘I’m good thanks’ even if I am not. However, I now understand the importance of talking. Now I can’t stop!

It is okay to say how you feel. It is okay not to be okay. It is not a weakness, even though we can convince ourselves otherwise. We have to look after our wellbeing and be kind to ourselves. We are only human and we are allowed to show it.

Sharon Guinnane